Tell me again why the Japanese baseball player is so great…

December 15, 2011 | Drew Forrester


Can someone please explain to me why baseball people in North America are infatuated with Japanese baseball players?

I’m in need of an answer — the right one, please — because I simply don’t get it.

The Orioles have added a Japanese left-handed pitcher, Tsoyushi Wada, and for reasons I can’t quite figure out, we’re supposed to be going ga-ga over his signing.

So I need someone to explain it all to me…given the barely-serviceable overall track record of Japanese players in the U.S., please tell me why it’s such a big deal for the Orioles to snag this soon-to-be-32-year-old who more closely resembles a slimmer version of Bruce Chen.

Joe Saunders was available — actually, he still is, as I write this.  Why wouldn’t the Orioles give him the $13 or $14 million over two years that you’d probably have to throw his way to get Saunders to sign on in Baltimore?  He’s 31.  He can pitch.  His numbers have just about always been league average or better.  When the Diamondbacks non-tendered him earlier this week, I assumed the Orioles would be interested in him.  He’s not Mark Hendrickson, a familiar name from off-season’s past.  He isn’t Adam Eaton.  Saunders has put up some credible major league numbers.

I know one of the reasons why they preferred Wada.  He’s cheaper.  He comes to Charm City an at overall salary exposure of just over $8 million for two years.  Saunders wouldn’t quite cost them $8 million per-year, but it would be in that range.

So to answer my own question, the Orioles like Wada in part because he’s less expensive than a proven major league pitcher.

That’s sad…but true.

Orioles GM Dan Duquette has promised folks around town he’s going to be aggressive in the international market.  I don’t think anyone feels as if that’s a bad move.  The international player-market has been percolating for a dozen years or so and the Orioles have languished behind nearly every other franchise in scouting, development and signings.

But part of that dedication to the international market is rooted in the scouting phase, which obviously ISN’T something that’s part of the fondness for the Japanese player.  The Orioles didn’t really “scout” Wada.  They heard about him like every other team in the big leagues did and they went and checked him out.  Then, they signed him.  Scouting Japanese players, to me, would mean being over there and seeing these kids at 18, 19, 20 years old, and taking them OUT of Japan at that point and bringing them to the U.S. to go through the entire minor league process on American soil.

So why, then, would the Orioles take Wada over Saunders?  A Japanese player with NO experience in the big leagues over an American player with 161 career starts over 7 seasons.

It’s not as if every other Japanese player to come over here has excelled.  If, in fact, it turned out to be “one-good, one-bad, one-good, one-bad”, you’d perhaps understand the gamble a bit more.

Here’s a quick laundry list of players who once played in the Nippon Professional league in Japan — Iguchi, Johjima, Fukudome, Hasegawa, Saito, Matsui (Kaz), Suzuki, Nomo, Kuroda and Matsui (Hideki).  According to a Japanese baseball site, these are the 10 best players who have ever left Japan (please see next page)

4 Comments For This Post

  1. eric Says:

    Agree with you on Saunders. And if the O’s want to impress close the deal on Wei Yen who K Law has rated the 19th best free agent. For comparison sake he had Papelbon at 18 and Oswalt at 22. But since Yen is actually good and other teams are interested don’t hold your breath.

  2. unitastoberry Says:

    Over 30, low wages, no one knows about them, Japan is perfect for the Orioles no win make money team business model. Remember when Castro the murderer was sitting in OPACY and everyone thought hey now we are going to get all the young players from Cuba cause the head dictator and Angelos have broken bread together. Hows that working out for you Pete? Orioles are total joke.

  3. Jim Traber Says:

    Good article Drew, altghough I would say that the chance of grabbing one of the productive Japanese players is worth a shot and wouldn’t be notable except for the fact that for our team it seems to be our ‘big move’ for 2012. Yawn. Back to the Ravens!

  4. Tim Says:

    I dont think anyone is expecting Wada is expecting him to be great. I dont think that Os fans are supposed to be all that excited about him. I think he adds depth to a rotation that clearly needs it. He was inexpensive because no one expects him to be special, but overall I like the move. Saunders is really not all that good. He has a career ear of 4.16, last 2 seasons it has been 4.25 and 3.69 in the NL west… He would be killed in the AL east. I, personally, like the cheaper gamble on Wada. (DF: You must not follow baseball too much. A career ERA of 4.16 is UNDER the league average for his career. And, ummm, 3.69 is about a half-run under the NL average in 2011. I like how you wrote, “I like the cheaper option…” If the Orioles have an opening, you should apply.)

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